Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, is a scientific discipline concerned with the biological and behavioral aspects of human beings, their related non-human primates and their extinct hominin ancestors. It is a subfield of anthropology that provides a biological perspective to the systematic study of human beings.
As a subfield of anthropology, biological anthropology itself is further divided into several branches. All branches are united in their common application of evolutionary theory to understanding human morphology and behavior.
Scientific physical anthropology began in the 18th century with the study of racial classification. In the 1830s and 1840s, physical anthropology was prominent in the debate about slavery, with the scientific, monogenist works of the British abolitionist James Cowles Prichard (1786–1848) opposing those of the American polygenist Samuel George Morton (1799–1851). The first prominent physical anthropologist, the German physician Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) of Göttingen, amassed a large collection of human skulls.
In the latter 19th century French physical anthropologists, led by Paul Broca (1824–1880), focused on craniometry while the German tradition, led by Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), emphasized the influence of environment and disease upon the human body. American thought has evolved during the “four-field approach”, the inclusive research of the four sub-fields of Archaeology, Linguistics, Physical Anthropology and Cultural anthropology, based upon studies on the remains of the North American hominin clade.
In 1897 Columbia University appointed Franz Boas (1858–1942) as a physical anthropologist for his expertise in measuring schoolchildren and collecting Inuit skeletons. From his German education and training, Boas emphasized the mutability of the human form and minimized race (then a biology synonym) in favor of culture. Ales Hrdlicka (1869–1943), a physician, studied physical anthropology in France under Leonce Manouvrier before working at the Smithsonian Institution from 1902.
Earnest Hooton (1887–1954), a Classics PhD from the University of Wisconsin, entered anthropology as an Oxford Rhodes Scholar under R. R. Marett and the anatomist Arthur Keith. Harvard University hired Hooton in 1913; he trained most American physical anthropologists of the coming decades, beginning with Harry L. Shapiro and Carleton S. Coon, and struggled to differentiate physical anthropology from racism. There was much intellectual continuity with Germans such as Eugen Fischer, Fritz Lenz and Erwin Baur.
In 1951 Sherwood Washburn, a Hooton alumnus, introduced a "new physical anthropology." He changed the focus from racial typology to concentrate upon the study of human evolution, moving away from classification towards evolutionary process. Anthropology expanded to comprehend paleoanthropology and primatology.
Human biology is an interdisciplinary academic field consisting of contributions from biology, anthropology, and medicine which focuses on humans; it is closely related to primate biology, and a number of other fields.
Biomedical anthropology is a subfield of anthropology, predominantly found in US academic and public health settings, that incorporates perspectives from the biological and medical anthropology subfields. In contrast to much of medical anthropology, it does not generally take a critical approach to biomedicine and Western medicine. Instead, it seeks to improve medical practice and biomedical science through the holistic integration of cross-cultural or biocultural, behavioral, and epidemiological perspectives on health. As an academic discipline, biomedical anthropology is closely related to human biology.
Currently, the only accredited degree program in biomedical anthropology is at Binghamton University . Other anthropology departments, such as that of the University of Washington, offer biomedical tracks within more traditional biological or biocultural anthropology programs.